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Mary Weiss, Lead Singer of The Shangri-Las, Dies at 75

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Mary Weiss, the lead vocalist of The Shangri-Las — the 1960s pop girl group behind the No. 1 hit “Leader of the Pack” — has died. She was 75.

A representative for Weiss’ record label, Norton Records, confirmed the news of her death to The Hollywood Reporter on Saturday (Jan. 20). Norton released Weiss’ only solo album, Dangerous Game, in 2007.

No cause of death has been reported.

“I think you’re born with music in you,” Weiss said at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum event in 2007. “I sang from the time I could speak. I was always into music, always. My brother was a lot older than me and had an extensive record collection, and I listened to everything.”

In sixth grade, Weiss saw The Everly Brothers perform at a theme park and was inspired by their harmonies. “I always thought they were so underrated as far as what they provided for music and harmony,” she said.

With her older sister Elizabeth “Betty” Weiss, and friends Marguerite “Marge” and Mary Ann Ganser, twins whom the Weiss sisters met in grammar school, the group got together in the Cambria Heights neighborhood of Queens, New York. “We used to sing harmony on the street corner, in bathrooms, in tunnels — Central Park has some great tunnels if you want to sing harmony — and that’s pretty much how we started,” Weiss said during her interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Together they performed at local talent shows and school events, being too young to appear in clubs.

In 1964, when Weiss was just 14, the group met producer and songwriter George “Shadow” Morton. Working with him, they broke through with their recording of “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” released in 1964 via Red Bird Records, followed by singles like the chart-topping “Leader of the Pack” and “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” the same year, and “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” in 1965.

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As Weiss was a minor, her mother signed her contracts. The group released only two studio albums before shifting to Mercury Records and disbanding in 1968 amid litigation.

In 2007, Weiss recalled of the group’s busy years in the mid-’60s, “My entire life was a whirlwind … For four or five years, I would go to sleep and not remember what state I was in when I woke up because I would do a TV show in the morning and a radio thing in the afternoon, and be on a plane and be some place else. That was my life.”

“Initially, I loved the music. I didn’t like a lot of the things that came with it. I think it was very, very hard in 1964 to be a woman in the music business,” she said.

Weiss admitted that her “tough image kept a lot of people away, which was really important for survival.”

“It was very difficult back then because I truly believe that a lot of men were considered ‘artists’ whether or not other people wrote for them. Women were considered products,” Weiss explained. “I always found that difficult to accept.”

The Shangri-Las shared concert bills with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, James Brown and more famed acts. Weiss recalled the time Brown booked the group for a show in Texas in a 2007 interview with Rolling Stone, saying, “When I walked out onstage, I thought he was going to have a coronary. He didn’t realize I was white.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored “Leader of the Pack” in its singles category in 2019.

After her time performing with The Shangri-Las, Weiss went on to pursue a career as a commercial interior designer and consultant in New York City.

Weiss is survived by her husband, Ed, and sister, Liz, who is the last living member of The Shangri-Las.

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